CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

CESNUR 2006 International Conference
July 13-16, 2006
San Diego State University, San Diego, California
Religion, Globalization, and Conflict: International Perspectives

A Holistic Model of Ethical Behavior Based Upon a Metaperspectival Hierarchy of the Traditional Groupings of Virtues, Values, and Ideals

John E. LaMUTH (Victor Valley College)

A paper presented at the CESNUR 2006 International Conference. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author


a new model of motivational behavior, described as a ten-level, meta-hierarchy of the major groupings of virtues, values, and ideals, serves as the foundation for a holistic theory of ethics and morality. This key innovation arises as a direct outcome of the Systems Theory concept of the metaperspective (a higher-order perspective upon the viewpoint held by another). These traditional groupings of ethical terms are collectively arrayed as subsets within such a hierarchy of metaperspectives, each more abstract listing building in a direct fashion upon those which it supersedes. Take, for example, the cardinal virtues (prudence-justice-temperance-fortitude), the theological virtues (faith-hope-charity-decency), and the classical Greek values (beauty-truth-goodness-wisdom). Each of these groupings is split into a complex of four subordinate terms, allowing for precise, point-for-point stacking within the ethical hierarchy. When additional groupings of ethical terms are further added into the mix: namely, the personal ideals (glory-honor-dignity-integrity), the civil liberties (providence-liberty-civility-austerity), the humanistic values (peace-love-tranquility-equality), amongst others; the complete ten level hierarchy of metaperspectives emerges in full detail. From a holistic standpoint, this cohesive ethical hierarchy mirrors the stepwise specialization of personal, group, spiritual, humanitarian, and transcendental realms within the human social structure (which when further specialized into both authority and follower roles, accounts for the full ten-level hierarchy of ethical terms).

The key innovation behind this revolution arises as a direct result of the emerging field of Communications Theory, borrowing the crucial concept of the metaperspective (a higher-order perspective upon the viewpoint held by another): schematically defined as "this is how I see you-seeing me." The abstract groupings of virtues, values, and ideals are respectively seen as subsets within this hierarchy of metaperspectives; each more abstract listing building upon those which it supersedes (setting the stage for the ethical simulation in an AI mode).

     Take, for example, the cardinal virtues (prudence-justice-temperance-fortitude), the theological virtues (faith-hope-charity-decency), and the classical Greek values  (beauty-truth-goodness-wisdom). Each of these distinctive ethical groupings is further split into a complex of four subordinate terms, allowing for a precise, point-for-point stacking within the hierarchy of metaperspectives. When additional groupings of ethical terms are further added into the mix: i.e., the civil liberties (providence-liberty-civility-austerity), the humanistic values (peace-love-tranquility-equality), the mystical values (ecstasy-bliss-joy-harmony), amongst others; the complete ten level hierarchy of metaperspectives emerges in full detail, schematically reproduced in the table immediately below:


Nostalgia . . H-Worship ......... Guilt . Blame

Glory . . . . Prudence .......... Honor . Justice

Providence . . Faith .......... Liberty . Hope

Grace . . . . Beauty ........ Free-will . Truth

Tranquility . Ecstasy ........ Equality . Bliss


Desire . . Approval ............ Worry . Concern

Dignity . Temperance ...... Integrity . Fortitude

Civility . Charity ...........Austerity . Decency

Magnanim . Goodness .... Equanimity . Wisdom

Love . . Joy ................      Peace . Harmony


      This cohesive hierarchy of virtues, values, and ideals proves particularly comprehensive in scope, accounting for a majority of the major ethical terms celebrated within the Western ethical tradition. Indeed, it is easy to gain a sense of the trend towards increasing abstraction when scanning each of the individually depicted lines from left to right. These traditional, four-part ethical groupings line up perfectly within this hierarchy of metaperspectives, making it exceedingly unlikely that such a hierarchy could have arisen solely by chance. Indeed, this cohesive ethical hierarchy mirrors the specialization of personal, group, spiritual, humanitarian, and transcendental realms within human society in general: which when further specialized into both authority and follower roles accounts for the complete ten-level hierarchy of ethical terms.

      Such superficial resemblance, however, can scarcely claim to be the total picture; for it further proves possible to base this hierarchy of ethical values entirely within a behavioral foundation; namely, the terminology of operant conditioning proposed by psychologist B. F. Skinner. Through a purely behavioral style of motivational analysis, the higher virtues and values can alternately be viewed as more advanced metaperspectives on the more basic complement of instinctual states (i.e., reward, punishment, appetite, aversion). Indeed, the characteristic four-part ethical groupings are fully explainable in terms of such a behavioral tie-in with operant conditioning (in addition to explaining the dual specialization of authority and follower roles across the board). This cohesive ethical hierarchy is comprehensive in scope, ranging from the instinctual to the sublime (and everything in between).  This all-inclusive character turns out to be a prerequisite with respect to applications to AI, allowing for a convincing simulation of motivational language in general.


The key to such an innovation resides in viewing the individual as the rightful product of his diverse range of social environments. In addition to the most basic one-to-one style of personal interaction, the individual is typically incorporated into a wide range of group contexts (e.g., family, work, school, etc.), as well as some all-encompassing style of spiritual environment. These various contexts, in turn, merge as a unified social hierarchy, in keeping with the theoretical principles governing the science of Set Theory. Set Theory is clearly in agreement with this three-way degree of specialization, the unit set, the group set, and the universal set corresponding to the personal, group, and spiritual realms, respectively.

      This concept of a three-level style of set hierarchy is actually nothing new, proposed centuries earlier by the great German philosopher, Emmanuel Kant. In his masterpiece, The Critique of Pure Reason Kant outlines an elaborate system of conceptual categories that he considers crucial to the formation of the human intellect: the most notable being the relevant category of quantity, divided, in turn, into the notions of unity, plurality, and totality. In general terms, these concepts equate to the notions of the one, the many, and the absolute; equivalent in the human social sense to the personal, group, and spiritual levels of the power hierarchy.

      This three-level style of conceptual hierarchy, although appealing in its simplicity; differs from Set Theory in that complex interactions between individuals do not exist in a vacuum, but rather are dually specialized into either authority or follower roles, respectively. In the personal realm, this amounts to the personal authority and personal follower roles; extending to the group realm as the dual complement of group authority and group representative roles, followed up by the spiritual authority and spiritual disciple roles of the spiritual realm. A brief description of each of these basic styles of authority/follower interaction is definitely in order, for they collectively serve to outline the proposed grand unification of virtues, values, and ideals initially proposed.

      The most basic personal style of interaction refers to the one-to-one style of relationship between individuals, such as seen in one's personal friendships. This interplay is typically specialized into either authority or follower roles; exemplified in the case of the master craftsman (who critically depends upon the faithful services of his willing apprentice). A similar scenario further holds true in the case of the hero and his side-kick, or the celebrity and his straightman. Flexibility is certainly the key issue here, the authority and follower roles reciprocating one another, allowing for an equitable style of shared relationship. Indeed, the authority figure depends upon the attentions of his follower (as much as the other way around), leading to an effective balance of power within the personal power realm.

      This elementary style of personal relationship, in turn, gives way to the equally pervasive notion of group authority. As previously described, the group set surpasses the unit set in its expansion to a multitude of elements (or class members) within a group context. Personal concerns now become subordinate to this group sense of authority, plenty of followers remaining to continue group authority regardless of whether any individual chooses to defect. In a single stroke the group authority sets himself well above any personal power struggles, an innovation exploited since ancient times as the well established tradition of tribal-based authority.

      Group authority, in turn, is susceptible to its own unique form of follower maneuver, in this case that of the group representative. Indeed, the strike potential of the group representative is most fully realized at this level, witnessed in the modern-day trend towards collective bargaining. By organizing as a union collective, the rank and file picks a shop steward to represent them in their dealings with management. The union representative, in essence, informs the group authority that the cooperation and cohesiveness of the labor pool is crucial for maintaining the group status quo. Here again, the group authority and group representative effectively share an equal balance of power in the group power realm.

      A similar scenario necessarily holds true for the next higher spiritual level of authority, although this sense of "spiritual" refers to the restricted sense of the term implicit in set theory. Indeed, this universal set surpasses the multiplicity of the group domain for the sum-totality of all such groups within its domain. This universal set is unique in representing the group of all possible group sets, a third-order style of set hierarchy (equivalent to the domain of all of mankind). Just as group authority surpassed the influence of any of its individual members, so this universal sense of spiritual authority overrules the strike power of any of its constituent groups; hence, claiming supremacy over all mankind.

      It is true, in practice, that each of the world's religions competes for the preferences of the world's faithful. In theory, however, each religion vigilantly strives to convert all others, lending credence to the ideal (universal) sense of the term. This claim to universality is traditionally made binding through an appeal to a god or a messiah figure. Indeed, this mystical style of sanction dates at least to classical times, when a king could inspire loyalty from his troops in the name of a god of war, far in excess of what he could hope to claim as a mere mortal.

      Taking this trend to the limit, even a realm as abstract as the spiritual must (by definition) be susceptible to its own unique form of follower countermaneuver, this time in the role of the spiritual disciple. As a spokesman for the spiritual congregation, the spiritual disciple reminds his authority figure, that without the blessings of the faithful, he (as spiritual authority) will have no one left to minister over. Indeed, witness the power of the apostate or the heretic for influencing such diverse historical events as the Protestant Reformation, and indeed the very founding of Christianity itself.


This basic three-level hierarchy of personal, group, and spiritual realms, when viewed in terms of both authority and follower roles; finally provides the fundamental conceptual framework for proposing the grand unification of virtues, values, and ideals, as schematically illustrated in Figure one. This master diagram, tentatively termed the "power pyramid," incorporates all of the major ethical groupings described so far, plus an equivalent number of new ones, for a grand total of ten; serving as the basic foundation for the remainder of this paper. As the captions serve to indicate, the first three levels of this diagram are designated according to the personal, group, and spiritual levels of the power realm, accounting for the most basic groupings of virtues and ideals. The remaining lowermost two levels, however, bring to light two hitherto unmentioned categories; namely, the humanitarian and transcendental realms, respectively. Indeed, it is fitting to distinguish this additional complement of levels as uniquely abstract styles of power maneuvers; surpassing the organizational style of structure previously described. A brief description of each of these latter two levels is definitely in order, for some of the most abstract listings of virtues and values fall under these final two headings.

      Although the spiritual realm is clearly the maximum level of organization (in keeping with the traditions of Set Theory), this very sense of chronological time permits the introduction of the even more advanced notion of humanitarian authority into the mix. Indeed, the great theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein defined time as the fourth dimension of the universe, making it seem only fitting that this humanitarian theme would enter into consideration precisely at this fourth-order level of the power hierarchy. Humanitarian authority transcends the spiritual variety by claiming to speak for all generations of mankind, not just the current one; experienced as past traditionalism and/or future potentiality. Its extreme degree of generality precludes its identification with any particular social institution; rather its themes are incorporated into the spiritual (and sometimes political) framework of society as a whole.

       This extreme sense of the pure power of abstraction, when considered in its own right, serves as the basis for one final innovation in the power hierarchy; namely, the crowning transcendental power realm. Transcendental authority regains the upper hand by transcending the routine sense of concreteness shared in common by all of the lower levels, an innovation which proves essential for accounting for the most abstract listings of values in the power hierarchy. This authority perspective freely enters into the esoteric realm of pure intuition and imagination, forsaking the constraints of ordinary reality for the supreme and incontrovertible realm of pure abstraction. Indeed, this transcendental realm (along with the humanitarian                                                                            

               Nostalgia    Guilt                               Hero-Worship      Blame

                  Desire    Worry                                    Approval     Concern          

                   EGO STATES                                         ALTER EGO STATES

               (Personal Authority)                                 (Personal Follower)



                    Glory     Honor                                  Prudence     Justice

                  Dignity     Integrity                            Temperance     Fortitude


                   PERSONAL IDEALS                           CARDINAL VIRTUES

                  (Group Authority)                                (Group Representative)




               Providence     Liberty                                    Faith     Hope

                 Civility     Austerity                                 Charity    Decency


                   CIVIL LIBERTIES                             THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES

                (Spiritual Authority)                                  (Spiritual Disciple)




                    Grace     Free Will                                Beauty    Truth

              Magnanimity     Equanimity                     Goodness    Wisdom


                   ECUMENICAL IDEALS                     CLASSICAL GREEK VALUES

                 (Humanitarian Authority)                       (Humanitarian Follower)




              Tranquility     Equality                                  Ecstasy    Bliss

                     Love      Peace                                              Joy    Harmony


                  HUMANISTIC VALUES                           MYSTICAL VALUES

               (Transcendental Authority)                         (Transcendental Follower)



variety) is further specialized into the distinctive authority and follower roles (for a grand total of four), which together with the six roles specified for the personal, group, and spiritual levels collectively comprise the master ten-level hierarchy depicted in Figure one.

      A few general observations may be made with respect to the distinguishing features of this schematic format. First, the ten listings of virtues, values, and ideals are organized into dual descending columns of five groupings each; the left column representing the hierarchy of authority roles, whereas the right describes the corresponding follower roles. This dual style of schematic format represents the sum-totality of reciprocating interactions between the authority and follower figures, as the directional arrows serve to indicate.

     The distinctive groupings of virtues and values listed for each individual level exhibit their own distinctive range of distinguishing characteristics; namely, each is represented as a quartet style of schematic format (depicted as quadrants in a pseudo-Cartesian system). Some of the more traditional groupings (such as the cardinal virtues) are already represented as four-part listings, fitting quite nicely into such a quadrant-style of format. Others (such as the theological virtues) have been supplemented beyond their traditional number in order to achieve this quartet-style of status. Still other groupings are entirely new to this philosophical tradition, yet these too are seen to respect this quartet-style organization of the power hierarchy.

      Just as the distinctive authority levels are seen to build in a hierarchial fashion, so the associated groupings of virtues and values further respect this abstract pattern of organization. These are seen to build from the most elementary (e.g., the ego and alter ego states of the personal level) clear on up to the most abstract listings of the transcendental level (i.e., the humanistic and mystical values). A brief description of each of these basic ethical listings is certainly in order here, serving as a basic overview of the remainder of this paper.


The most basic personal level of power hierarchy is certainly the most rational jumping off point here, making it seem only fitting that the associated motivational terms would share such similar elementary characteristics. According to level one of Figure one, these are respectively designated as the ego states of the personal authority (guilt-worry-nostalgia-desire) and the alter ego states of the personal follower (hero worship-blame-approval-concern). These groupings appear tailor-made for incorporation into the power hierarchy, graciously adapted from the field of self-help psychology; most notably, the best seller Your Erroneous Zones by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Indeed, the intensely personal nature of this self-help field makes its associated terminology particularly effective for specifying the intimate dynamics of this personal power realm. These distinctive motivational terms, in turn, can be seen to be grounded in the terminology of behavioral psychology. For instance, the desire for approval is the colloquial equivalent to the behavioral paradigm of solicitous behavior aimed towards positive reinforcement (or rewards). Similarly, the sense of worry in anticipation of concern can alternately be equated to submissive behavior aimed at negative reinforcement (or lenient treatment). When this two-stage operant paradigm is phase-shifted one stage into the past (with reinforcement now the active principle), the remaining ego and alter ego states are further explainable in such behavioral terms. For instance, hero worship rewardingly aims to reinforce the past notable achievements (experienced as a poignant sense of nostalgia). Similarly, a lenient sense of blame analogously gives rise to submissive feelings of guilt.

      Although only briefly described, these basic groupings of ego and alter ego states, in turn, serve as the elementary foundation for each of the remaining listings of virtues, values, and ideals outlined in Figure one. The additional, objective (behavioral) grounding to this personal foundation adds a welcome scientific validity to such a grand undertaking. Indeed, a basic pattern clearly emerges from this diagram; namely, the left-hand column of authority roles is characterized by what are termed the authority ideals: read downwards as the personal ideals, the civil liberties, the ecumenical ideals, and the humanistic values. The right hand column of follower roles, in turn, specifies a parallel trend based in the realm of the virtues; namely, the cardinal virtues, theological virtues, the classical Greek values, and the mystical values. 


Although the hierarchy of virtues and values proves exceedingly convincing at an intuitive level, the implications of such a motivational style of calculus calls for an even higher degree of precision than has currently been demonstrated. Indeed, this systematic organization of the ethical hierarchy conveniently allows the construction of what must be termed the "schematic definitions" of the ethical hierarchy. This crucial innovation spells out (in longhand) the precise location of each virtue or value within the linguistic matrix, while preserving the correct status of the corresponding authority and follower roles. Each definition is formally constructed along the lines of a two-stage sequential format; namely, (A) the formal recognition of the preliminary power maneuver, and (B) the current countermaneuver now being employed, and hence, labeled. Take, for example, the representative ethical definition of justice, reproduced here from the comprehensive collection of tables.

Previously, I (as your group
  authority) have honorably acted
in a guilty fashion towards you:
countering your (as PF) blameful
treatment of me.
But now, you, (as group rep-
resentative) will justly-blame me:
overruling my (as GA) honorable
sense of guilt. 

According to this specific example, the honorable sense of guilt expressed by the group authority represents the preliminary power maneuver, countered by the just-blaming tactic initiated by the group representative. According to this fundamental format, the preliminary power perspective represents the one-down power maneuver, while the immediate power perspective is designated as the one-up variety. Power leverage is accordingly achieved by rising to the one-up power status; e.g., ascending to the next higher metaperspectival level.